Officials from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality had allotted three hours to hear public comment on the proposed Montana Alberta Tie, Ltd. (MATL) transmission line project. Although approximately 60 people turned out for the hearing, which was held in Cut Bank on Wednesday, March 28, only about a dozen of those offered testimony on the project-the majority of which was very supportive.
As proposed, the 130-mile transmission line would extend from the Montana-Alberta border northeast of Cut Bank to an existing substation just north of Rainbow Dam near Great Falls. DEQ has tentatively selected a preferred route, which contains “small revisions” in five areas to reduce impact on property owners. The proposed action by the DEQ also requires MATL to use single pole structures along 24 miles of the line.
Mayor Joni Stewart opened the public comment period of the hearing with a very brief statement offering her full support of the project and the proposed route of the transmission line. The Cut Bank mayor’s support was echoed for the next 40 minutes by representatives of the Cut Bank Area Chamber of Commerce, GAIN Development, Inc., the City of Shelby and the Shelby Port Authority, Toole and Glacier County Commissioners and local residents.
Ross Buckingham, who lives in Cut Bank and served on MATL’s advisory committee, told those at the hearing MATL worked hard to try and accommodate the needs and concerns of the landowners involved. He believes the project is important for Glacier, Toole, Pondera and Teton counties, as well as the Great Falls area, and is key to the development of wind energy in this area.
Kathy Campbell, President of GAIN Development, Inc., testified the GAIN board of directors voted unanimously to support the DEQ’s proposed alternative route and is supportive of the MATL line and project.
Glacier County Commissioners John Ray, Michael DesRosier and Ron Rides At The Door spoke individually, reaffirming Glacier County’s support of the project and the potential economic development it holds for this area. DesRosier said he, personally, would like to see the DEQ choose the route that would have the line located closer to the Blackfeet Reservation, but the commissioners, as a whole, support MATL. Ray added the commissioners support MATL “for the obvious economic reasons” and Door views the project as an “opportunity” to offer a “better quality of life for future generations” who live in the Golden Triangle area.
Cut Bank Chamber President LeAnne Kavanagh reiterated the Chamber’s support of the MATL transmission line. “This transmission line holds the key to the development of a number of wind park projects in this area, most notably the McCormick Ranch Wind Park, which will be located in both Glacier and Toole Counties. The development of wind power as a clean and green, renewable energy source will greatly enhance our stagnant tax base, potentially reducing property taxes for all our residents-whether they be farmers, ranchers, small business owners or individuals struggling to make ends meet on a fixed income.”
Kavanagh added, “The Cut Bank Area Chamber of Commerce is not insensitive to the ag producers whose operations are affected by this project or to those who have expressed concern over the project’s impact on the environment and historic and/or culturally significant areas. We are hopeful the preferred alternative now being discussed will result in a ‘win-wind’ situation for all parties involved.”
Toole County Commissioner Alan Underdahl said his county, too, supports the project, pointing out the necessity of the line to the development of proposed wind farms in the area. Underdahl touched on the economic impact of the line, which could add several hundred million dollars to the area counties’ tax base, reducing the property tax burden of property owners in the affected counties.
“We commend MATL for all the hard work they’ve done dealing with land owners,” he said, and offered his county’s support for the alternatives which hold the least liability for area farmers and ranchers.
Shelby Mayor and Port Authority representative Larry Bonderud complimented the DEQ for their “thorough review” of the project and he also complimented MATL officials for “trying to accommodate the ag producers” affected by the path of the line, with the addition of monopoles and annual payments.
He described the project as one requiring sacrifices by some so that the common good for all may be attained. Bonderud expressed his appreciation to those having to make those sacrifices. He is confident with the construction of the MATL line, the proposed wind farm projects will follow, increasing the tax base and resulting in tax savings for property owners.
“The real pay day comes down the road,” he concluded.
Marvin Kimmet, Vice President of Glacier Electric Cooperative, Inc., said the GEC board “uananimously supports” the project. “MATL did its homework,” he continued, adding the GEC board believes the project will stimulate economic development in the area counties, benefiting the entire area.
DEQ officials asked for those at the meeting who had concerns about the project or the proposed route to speak up. “If we don’t hear your concerns, we can’t do anything to address them.”
Tim Hoof, who lives southeast of Cut Bank, asked the DEQ to take into consideration an alternative to the proposed route he had submitted. “I am all for economic development, I just hope you can make concessions for our desires.”
Following the public comment portion of the hearing, the DEQ allowed those present to ask questions about the project. The majority of questions came from producers and related to pole structure, cost, the affect of the line on GPS equipment, eminent domain and the time frame of the project.
MATL’s Bob Williams said once the DEQ submits its decision, it will take approximately seven months to build and commission or test the line, weather permitting.
Attending last week’s public hearing, according to the sign-in sheet, were citizens from Cut Bank, Shelby, Browning, East Glacier, Ethridge, Dutton and Bismarck, N.D. It was the second of three public hearings held last week to receive public comment on the project. Written comments may still be submitted to DEQ Director’s Office, Attn: Greg Hallsten, P.O. Box 200901, Helena, MT 594620 or emailed to MATL@mt.gov.
The DEQ is accepting public comment until April 9 and then will attempt to answer the questions and concerns contained in the comments they have received and heard. After that, they will issue a final economic impact statement and then announce their decision within 30 days. Following that, the U.S. Department of Energy must issue a presidential permit for the project to proceed because the line crosses an international boundary.
By LeAnne Kavanagh
4 April 2007
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